I’m not a fan of scary Halloween stories. Last year I was Red Riding Hood, and that’s about as much horror as I can handle. But I do love a fairy tale rife with suspense, darkness, cultural critique, and monsters, and Halloween is a good time to dig them out of their dusty tomes and read them aloud to the glow of a flashlight.
I’ve just started reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, which opens in Prague and has the main character spending a night in a coffin with the Golem. I was immediately transported to the chilly autumn I spent in Prague.
The legends say that the Golem was created by Rabbi ben Loew to fight the dangers roaming in the Jewish Ghetto of Prague. One dark night he crept to the banks of the Vltava River and gathered the dark mud found there to create his figure, and with the right words the dark form sprung to life, ready to do his master’s bidding. The Golem, brought to life with words of the kabbala, protected the Jews from threats, tearing limb from limb anyone who was a danger. Some versions say he went out of control and in a fit of violence, the Rabbi removed the life from him, collapsing him into dust and clay. The stories say he was interred in the Old-New Synagogue in Prague, left there to fight a future danger.
It’s a myth that’s seeped into our cultural consciousness, asking questions of power and love and what makes a human. If Adam was created from mud and clay, can it be done again? Does Dr. Frankenstein have a right to create life? While it’s an ancient Jewish story, it’s firmly rooted in Prague’s history. The Golem is one of the stories that makes the city what it is, steeped in alchemy and dark shadows that roam the streets looking for a hopeless soul. On a chilly autumn night it’s easy to imagine the giant protector patrolling the Josefov before falling inanimate again for the next day. It’s a story safeguarding the secret ambitions that lay in the dark mud of rivers, under bridges, falling into the depths of black waters.
Happy Halloween, from the Golem.